PM Narendra Modi bows in front of B.R. Ambedkar's portrait on Ambedkar Jayanti in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh
File Photo | PM Narendra Modi bows in front of B.R. Ambedkar's portrait on Ambedkar Jayanti in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh | Narendra Modi Twitter
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It pains me to see youths growing indifferent to religion,” said Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar at Manmad Railway Workers Conference in 1938. “Religion is not an opium as is held by some. What good things I have in me or whatever benefits of my education to the society, I owe them to the religious feelings in me.”

This quote may come as a surprise to many people who follow Ambedkarism today, without reading him. That is because India’s Leftist Ambedkarite activists have portrayed him as antithetical to religion. But Ambedkar was no Karl Marx. ‘Religion is the opium of the masses’, Marx famously said, but Ambedkar viewed religion as an essential component of society. And so, a person can be all three – a Hindu, a nationalist and an Ambedkarite – without there being any contradiction. This stands starkly opposed to the ideological narrative that advocates the false idea that Ambedkar’s thoughts and nationalism cannot co-exist.

Ambedkar attached a great level of importance to religion, which will not be palatable to the present generation of Communists who want to monopolise his legacy.

Advocating temple entry for members of the oppressed classes through peaceful protest was Ambedkar’s hallmark. The followers of Periyar in Tamil Nadu pose a grand ambiguity when they support irrational obliteration of Hindu establishments and claim to be Ambedkarites at the same time.

Also read: BR Ambedkar, the Congress critic who saw Gandhi and Patel as opposed to Dalits

During the definitive stage of his life, Ambedkar was struggling with the question of religious conversion. Considering his immense scholarship on theology, he was convinced of weaknesses and strengths of all the Indic faiths. There has to be a strong reason as to why after much introspection and deliberation with multiple religious leadership, he commits himself to Buddhism, which is often described as an offshoot of Hinduism. Was he avoiding the likely fallout if he converted to any non-Indic faiths like Islam or Christianity? It is a question that the social historians must address and not be shy of.

Facing struggle for opposing caste

The ideas of Ambedkar were a product of the conflict of caste. His life is a testimony to this uninterrupted struggle. But Ambedkar also faced prejudice for his ideological stand against caste, from even among the Communists.

There was a special resolution in 1952 adopted by the Communist Party of India (CPI) central committee against the organisation led by Ambedkar, Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF), that said, “(U)rge for economic betterment and social equality have been given a distorted and disruptive form by their pro-imperialist and opportunist leader, Dr Ambedkar who has organised them on a communal, anti-caste Hindu basis in the SCF”.

Also read: In Mayawati-Akhilesh alliance, Ambedkar and Lohia can realise their unfinished agenda

Comes the With election comes the fear mongering – about reservation, Hindutva and Constitutional guarantees for social justice. But it is the Congress party that never allowed a freedom fighter and one of the tallest Dalit leader, Babu Jagjivan Ram, a respectable position in the party’s history or the government. Jagjivan Ram had to finally break away from the Congress party. He joined the Janata Party and went on to eventually become the deputy prime minister of the country under the Janta Party government that was supported by the Jana Sangh. Babu Jagjivan Ram as a subaltern leader does not suit the Leftist’s narrative as he was a dedicated Hindu who chose to fight the evils of the religion by remaining within the Hindu fold. Both Kanshi Ram and Mayawati did not convert to any other religion either. Dalits are devout Hindus.

But Bangaru Laxman was the first Dalit to lead a national party – the BJP, from 2000 to 2001 – in the history of Indian politics. GMC Balayogi, a lawyer, became the first Dalit to be appointed the speaker of Lok Sabha during the BJP-led NDA government. It was again the BJP that gave India its first Dalit president to the country in form of Ram Nath Kovind. (K R Narayanan, the tenth president of India, was a Christian-Dalit.) The highest number of Dalit parliamentarians today are from the BJP.

Ambedkar writes, “Ethnically all peoples are heterogeneous. It is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture.” Culture in this context when decoded points towards our timeless civilisational conscience that has survived the test of times.  Ambedkar was rooted in Indian civilization and culture.

Also read: Ambedkar and Gita: There is a reason why Narendra Modi will never mention them together

Ambedkar is also reported to have favoured the proposal of making Sanskrit India’s official language. It was the richness of our culture which he keeps pointing to.

It is time we sincerely analyse the multiple facets of Ambedkar’s personality. And Ambedkar Jayanti (14 April) is just the right occasion to initiate a new, unbiased and constructive public dialogue on his legacy. Ambedkar’s grasp on International politics, his warnings on China, and his incomparable scholarship in the discipline of economics must be uncovered for the present generation. Restricting Ambedkar as a mere social justice crusader and an exclusive subaltern leader is a great disservice to his legacy.

The author is a former central minister, professor at Patna University and presently a  member of Legislative Council in Bihar.

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  1. Buddhism is not an offshoot of Hinduism., Buddhism is existing since more than 2300 year before Hinduism.

  2. ‘offshoot of Hinduism!? Buddhism grew as a resistance to Bramhinism! The Print please mend your ways. We already have enough fence-sitters.

  3. The writer has embarked on a journey to demean the entire struggle of this great man for creating a just equitable and humane society and for this he had to set an example by abandoning the religion which he thought cannot be reformed. It is a deliberate attempt to create mischief by attributing the perception made popular by brahmnical intelligensia as Ambedkar’s thoughts on religion. In his ” Buddha and Karl Marx” he has criticized marxism that the objective in marxism is to attain equality through proletariat dictatorship . While the objective to bring equality is a just one but after the objective is fulfilled how would the people be governed, can the order in the society be maintained through perpetual violence . He gave the example of buddhism where the same objective of equality is attained but the order in the society is maintained voulantarily by understanding the core principle of compassion for every being built in the fundamental structure of the universe or the tathagat truth. Thus the means to achieve equality in marxism was attacked by Ambedkar because he believed that atheism advocated by marxism will build an immoral society for which perpetual state violence to prevent anarchy will lead to loss of precious life and property. Thus Ambedkar’s like for Buddha’s dhamma which is a way of life and not religion was mischievously attributed as his love for dharma as it is meant religion in Hinduism. Secondly the writer uses hinduism and buddhism as if they are interchangeable. Dr Ambedkar has used his entire energy in building the argument that the two beliefs are conflicting in nature and the voilence that resulted in revolution and then counter revolution in the process of their evolution. He has justified his understanding of the hindu scriptures despite his poor sanskrit because he relied on the translated works of Max Muller whose understanding of Indic languages is beyond doubt. Thus Ambedkar can be hardly thought of suggesting sanskrit to be important except to unravel the script of unjustness in the scriptures. He considered pali language to be far more worthy to write a lexicon on it.

  4. It is a great disservice to Baba Saheb that such an article got published on his anniversary. I do understand such kind of knowledge production is necessary during the elections but I would request The Print as well as the writer not to spread such kind of flawed arguments about Baba Saheb for their own political gain. Throughout his life Baba Saheb protested against Hinduism. It was brahamnical form of Hinduism which had spread a disease like caste system which in a country like India has poisoned all religions. By calling Buddhism as similar to Hinduism, I think author is neither fluent with the foundations of Buddhism nor the reasons of Baba Saheb’s conversion. Buddhism and Jainism were founded to oppose Hinduism which created hierarchies in the society. By saying that Buddhism is similar to Hinduism it negates its heterogeneity and this is what this govt has been trying to do for very long. In Vol 5, chapter 7 of the text Dr. BabaSaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, titled Away from the Hindus, Dr. Ambedkar states the reason for “abandonment of Hinduism” by Untouchables at a Conference of the Mahars in Bombay on 31st May, 1936. The chapter also argues why this conversion was necessary and how Hindu Community was “shaken to its foundation”. The word Dalit means “Oppression” or “broken” which was given by Dalit Panthers Party to define oppression of untouchables by Hindus. When the whole foundation of Dalit movement is based on the opposition of Hinduism how does writer is coming to a conclusion that one can be Hindu Nationalist and Ambedakarite too? (This space is too small to argue all arguments of the writer)

  5. Ambedkar favored ONLY Dharmic religions.
    Ambedkar was absolutely Anti-Islam & Anti-Christianity.
    He makes this viciously clear in his final book “Pakistan or The Partition of India” – a much hated & censored book by Leftist-Communist-Ambedkarites who don’t want the truth of Ambedkar’s religiosity to be known by all Dalits.

  6. Which post / honour did the Congress “ deny “ Babu Jagjivan Ram. If I am not mistaken, his ministerial career started even before 1947. Had a fabulous collection of diamonds. Let us not create this mythology of the Congress denying the PM’s post to all and sundry and committing a hanging offence. Have not read Dr Ambedkar’s views about Hinduism, but some of it was quite colourful. Not easy to appropriate him as an icon.

    • I think you need to read ambedkar’s views on secularism as well as religious conversion as well….that is not focused on by the JNU type folks as it would hurt their agenda…

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